Why men must believe women about rape.

CW; TW: rape

This is the first post I’ve written for a particular audience: other men.  This is because the last thing women need – and it’s not as if they don’t already have a near infinite supply – is another man telling them about something they are far more qualified to talk about.  Also, as a feminist/ally/whatever, I understand that the most helpful thing I can do is try to talk to other men, because that’s where – at least in theory – I have an advantage.

The key point is that rape is not like other crimes, and until men at large appreciate this, it’s going to be difficult to act effectively against it.  This is not to say that all other acts are the same, but rape cannot just be treated as another offence on the list the police and courts are to deal with.  This is not just because it is overwhelmingly directed at women (and, yes, I am perfectly aware that a significant number of men will also experience rape), nor because of the terrible stigma attached to being a victim, although both of these are related.  But in no other crime is it quite so common to find people denying that it ever happened.  This is why you’ll find campaigns, hashtags, petitions and the like circulating to announce that other women *believe* an accuser.  It’s all too easy to mentally dismiss these as being about female solidarity – and that is part of it, and a good thing in its own right – but it goes beyond that, as rape is the only crime where the public response routinely involves attacking the victim.

Take a murder trial: at some point in proceedings, the defence is able to provide a good enough alibi that the defendant is acquitted; so what happens next?  Obviously this may be upsetting for the victim’s family and friends, and a set-back for the police and CPS, but a setback is all it (necessarily) is.  The first thing you expect to see outside the court is the leading officer announcing that they intend to reopen the investigation and find out who *really* committed the crime.  The same would apply for an assault, a robbery, or any of a variety of other crimes, and it may be true in the case of the cliched attack-by-a-masked-man-in-a-dark-alley.  But with the vast majority of rapes, when the trial falls apart (assuming that things have advanced that far) the default assumption is now that the alleged crime never actually took place.  Or that there was sexual activity, but the nature of it magically changed to being either fully consensual, or a mere misunderstanding or miscommunication (not that the latter should be excusable).

It’s not so much that I’m arguing that we should treat rape differently de novo, as observing that we already do, so we need to react to that.  When a killing, or a theft is announced, we immediately accept the reality of the crime.  There may be all sorts of theories floating around about the perpetrator, or how the crime was committed, but things have to get to a pretty extreme state before we consider that it might not have happened in the first place.  So really, in saying that we believe a rape victim is only to restore that crime to the status we accord to the rest.  To say that we believe a rape victim is to accord to them no more than the basic courtesy afforded to the rest of society.

Some expected responses

Now a certain fraction of mankind will immediately leap up against the idea that any one crime should be treated differently to the rest as counter to various principles of justice.  My first response to that is to observe that legal and judicial systems are constructed and evolve over time; we might like to pretend that there are eternal underlying concepts, but the fact is that we have constantly modified both laws and systems to reflect the wider society.  Also we already treat different crimes in slightly different fashions.  Nobody seems to object to the notion that sexual crimes need to be handled with greater delicacy than others.

The second is to observe that apologists often seem very attached to a misreading of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.  This is part of a whole raft of narrow legal principles that people like to interpret as general rights, but without any sound basis (see also: people shouting about Freedom of Speech while failing to understand that the right, as most clearly given by the first amendment to the US constitution, which even non-US citizens tend to use a benchmark, is purely to not have *the state* limit one’s speech).  If you’ve committed a crime in fact, you are not innocent up until the moment of conviction, in the sense of not having done it.  The facts themselves do not change.  You *are* innocent in the eyes of the law, but that is not the same thing.  Nor is there any expectation against members of the public forming opinions at any stage in proceedings, except in the case of their being required to perform jury service.  I challenge anybody to read the news without forming instant (if potentially malleable) opinions about the guilt or innocence of those reportedly involved in any incidents they read a few lines about.

And finally, and associated with the above, there’s the fact that a rape trial is, to an extent, zero-sum.  To say that the defendant is innocent is necessarily to imply that the accuser is guilty (of fabricating, or at least exaggerating the incident).  And in plenty of cases it goes much further than that: it has been horrible to observe over the past few years how many people tangentially connected to the Ched Evans case have attacked the victim in all sorts of public ways.  And the rest of us have largely let this go because this is what the friends and family of someone accused of a crime are *supposed* to do – leap to the defence.  But in the case of rape this can seemingly only be done by attacking the character and credibility of somebody who has already been subject to a horrific crime (and let’s not ignore that in this case he was convicted and hasn’t been able to provide grounds to appeal or overturn).

So this is why it’s important to believe anybody who says that they have been raped.  We all know it happens a lot, even if we refuse to believe it in the face of overwhelming statistics.  On the same basis we should also know that false accusations are vanishingly rare (not least because of the huge cost to the victim of going public.  I don’t know where this myth of women getting rich and famous of the back of making accusations came from, but it’s as persistent as it is poisonous).  But even if this were a possibility, with any other crime we’d expect the police and the courts to root it out.  The women who have been raped deserve our support, and much of that comes from simply saying that we believe them.  There is a time and place for scepticism, but it is not in the face of somebody who has just faced one of the worst experiences a person possibly can, and who will also be acutely aware that this is just the beginning of their ordeal.

Believing rape victims is the only decent thing to do.

Postscript

Please note that when I’ve talked about rape in this, I include various other sexual offences; this is not about a particular legal definition, but a type of crime and how society does (and should) deal with it.

Advertisements

The Problem with Libertarianism.

I’m a liberal.  Depending on where you are in the world and your own political background, that might read as a okay, great, or terrible thing to be.  And within the tent it’s pretty complicated: gentle hippy types, hawkish republicans, and avid consumers can all be heard describing themselves as ‘liberals’.  But the root idea is that everybody should be free to live their own life as they choose, and in turn leave others to do the same.  If only it were that simple in practice.

,Within liberalism, though, there are two broad trends, connected to two conceptions of liberty: negative and positive (when exactly these were defined is a little disputed, but Isaiah Berlin may have been the first to formally do so).  Putting aside the possible implications of those labels, they are pretty simply formulated: Negative liberty is the absence of constraint, while positive liberty requires that one be empowered to act to carry out what they will.  The former is pretty simple, and contained within the latter.  Positive liberty is more complicated, but its necessity might be argued for by observing that, say, a small child alone in the wilderness is free from constraint, but still lacking in ‘freedom’.  I think most of us would have at least some sympathy for the idea that children should receive some education and basic healthcare even if we feel that as adults it should be ‘every man for himself’.  Of course if negative liberty is callous, positive can tend to overstretch its roots and lead to the ‘nanny state’.

Those who lean towards negative liberty are libertarians, as they see personal liberty – in the sense of freedom from constraint and interference – as the ultimate goal.  And those, like myself, who believe that positive liberty is fully a good thing, rather than a necessary evil, might call themselves social liberals.  Nonetheless, the two groups should really be able to get along, sharing the same ultimate aim.  As long as the libertarians have got their own spaces, we more socially-orientated types should be free to organise our selves, and we shouldn’t mind if they don’t want to participate, cos they’re not asking for anything either.

However, there is a big problem: [most] Libertarians are arseholes.  I’m not saying that social liberals aren’t an issue too, but social liberals don’t misrepresent ourselves in the same way.  We admit that we think we or the state should interfere in people’s lives.  There’s a lot of debate to be had about how much interference is too much, but at least we’re not pretending that this is not what we’re up to.

Why ‘Libertarians’ are arseholes

The first problem with people who call themselves libertarian is that most of them aren’t anything of the sort.  The second is that even those who ostensibly are have no idea how it would work in actual practice.

An example of the first type would be those better described as small-government conservatives   To put it briefly: it’s not libertarian to not want the state to meddle in your life (cos that’s true of pretty much everybody), it’s only libertarian if you don’t think the state should interfere in everybody else’s life too.  These are the people who would like the government to butt out when they abuse and discriminate against certain other races/sexualities/religions/etc., but at the same time demand that it act to prevent access to abortion and block same-sex marriage (they’re kind of accidentally half right on the latter, as a true libertarian should be opposed to any form of state-sanctioned marriage).  Everybody thinks that the state should do less of some things and more of others, but its not an ideology.

But you’re an arsehole if you can mentally juggle the idea that the state (and everybody else) should totally leave you to do what you want, while insisting that it stick its nose into the business of other people in the most intrusive fashion (and you don’t get much more intrusive than some of the rules that have been introduced to limit or discourage access to abortion).

The second major bunch of pseudo-libertarians who seem to be cropping up of late have given the matter a modicum more thought.  And they take their cue from people who are as close to actual, practical libertarianism as possible: survivalists.  The odd thing is that this new bunch are placed in a polar opposite situation: the techno-utopians.  I’ve been seeing a lot of these around Gamergate and the New Atheism (there’s a not insignificant overlap between the two of these, either).  Anyway, the common factor here is that these groups maintain that they can manage without the state, so they’ll be just fine if it goes away.  With your survivalist types, this might just about be possible.  If you’ve got the skills to not just cope in the wilderness, but to maintain the tools (and weapons) that you need to do so, then maybe you don’t need society.  It still seems a little churlish to ignore the source of your education, but if you want to bugger off, so be it, and best of luck to you.  The techno-utopian types are far more laughable.

I said that these people have given it a modicum more thought than the small-govt conservative, and I do mean a modicum.  They seem to think that if you magically removed all of the structures that support our modern global society, it would still stand in the same place.  They sit behind a computer and genuinely believe that either a) they have the basic skills to survive in the wild, because they play enough CoD; or b) that they’d be able to trade their coding skills for the necessities of life.  Somehow or other, the internet, the power grid, the roads, the markets, etc, etc, are going to be maintained in the absence of government, to allow them to barter off their amazingly specific skills.  It’s a really weird combination of a primitivist ideology with total dependence on high-technology.  So, again, these people are in effect demanding that all the things that annoy them personally are removed, while maintaining all of the associated stuff that they enjoy the use of.

Thing is, I’m totally a fan of the idea of dismantling current structures and systems of power.  States, corporations, institutions can all be torn down.  You just have to consider what you want in their place.  And nothing at all is not really an option, at least if you want access to running water.

Postscript

It might be observed that I haven’t really answered my question.  Rather than explaining why libertarians are terrible, I’ve pointed out that most people who label themselves thus are mistaken.  So a last point to maybe help explain why real libertarians are arseholes: it’s an ideology overwhelming dominated by white affluent types, frequently male, and who display an amazing blindness to how much they benefit from the status quo (and the state).  It’s easy to maintain that you can do as you will, when you have grown so used to the safety net that you can’t even see it any more.

No Children

Yesterday evening I eavesdropped, as it were (I’m sure there’s appropriate terminology, but I don’t know it), on a conversation between two people I follow on Twitter.  One has just had a child, and was remarking on how amazing being a father is, and the other concurred.  Rather than interrupting their shared reverie, I thought I’d ramble on about how I don’t entirely get this, and also how society’s attitude to the production and raising of children is rather odd.

Let me start by saying that I’m not criticising the fathers I was reading, nor parents in general.  If you want to have a kid, and believe that you can raise them to be a good person and have a decent standard of living, go for it.  Although these caveats touch on some of my thought: now it’s not my place – or anybody’s as far as I’m concerned – to make decisions for prospective parents, but I do wonder how much thought people give to having children.  Not, of course, that they don’t think about when to do it, and how they’ll reorganise their lives, but the pressure of expectation is so great that the idea of, y’know, not doing it at all doesn’t come up.  And of course there should be nothing wrong with saying ‘no thanks, having kids isn’t for me’.  Yet this is treated as a strange, or even radical position.

Nor am I interested in the purely biological imperatives to have kids/perpetuate one’s genes, etc.  There are fundamental reasons why other organisms reproduce – if there weren’t we wouldn’t be here – and I get that these contribute to human nature.  But this still doesn’t explain why society fetishises parenthood – human civilisation is one of the things, for good or ill, that differentiates us from the rest of nature.  As an aside, this is one of the reasons I don’t understand the pull of evolutionary psychology: trying to explain everything in terms of our hunter-gatherer past rather misses the point of what we’ve been up to for the past few millennia, and at best it’s a long distant starting point.

So you’re thinking about having a baby

Great, many people consider it to be the most rewarding experience of their lives.  You might too, but don’t count on it.  You’re about to invest a huge amount of your time and energy, to say nothing of money, in this project, so it’s probably worth giving it some thought.  Probably best to at least put your plans on hold if you’re only doing it because you think it’s something you should do, but without knowing quite why.  Ditto if you’re doing it because your partner, family, friends, colleagues say you should do it.  These people’s opinions are all important, to varying degrees, but they’re not you.  Most difficult is going to be the case of your partner, but if they want kids and you don’t really, it’s probably best to part ways amicably now.

Oddly enough, I reckon that the most commonly cited factor, that of money, is the least important factor in making this decision.  Plenty of people, generally those with money, will go on about making sure that you’re economically stable and comfortable.  Quite apart from the impossibility of knowing where you’ll be decades in the future, there is no such thing.  People manage on every conceivable income, and expectations tend to fit the circumstances.  For example, I have been amazed to read about a number of people who cannot even imagine not sending their offspring to a private school.  I remember reading a piece in the aftermath of the initial banking crisis which tried to give some perspective on the modern class system, and which featured a banker who genuinely believed that it was impossible to raise a family on a salary of less than six figures.  I guess he might have made some concessions for people living outside London, but he listed off various expenses as necessary, apparently oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of the population live without them.  Which tangent brings me to a real requirement: empathy.  If you can’t think of other people, you probably shouldn’t have kids, cos they won’t just be extensions of your self, however much you might like them to be.

Anyway, if you reckon you can muddle through, and genuinely want to, then go for it.  Billions of people have managed it before, which is not to say that it’s not challenging, as they’ve met with varying degrees of success.  But it’s not a completely outlandish idea.  Quite the opposite, which is my real issue here: why does society at large see the need to continually celebrate parenthood as if it’s the greatest thing in the world?

I get why politicians do, as there are a lot of votes in it, but that’s merely a function a) there are lots of parents, and b) that they think that what they do is worthy of recognition.  So that get’s us nowhere.  But as a broadly political matter, it makes no sense, as people kind of do it anyway, and besides the world is already full enough (in terms of the current infrastructure – I’m not suggesting that there’s an arbitrary limit).  I might make exceptions for people who take a narrowly nationalistic position and who’s national populations are in decline, but this is already a piece with the idea that a growing population is a Good Thing.  And besides, anybody who doesn’t view immigration as a viable solution to this is at least latently racist.

So if there’s no wider incentive, why get so much more excited about it than almost every other possible human activity.  I agree that we should celebrate people who do a good job of it, but no more than we should congratulate those who produce good art.  But in both cases we should withhold the praise from those who do it badly.  It’s true that the very attempt at either might be good for the person or persons themselves, but that’s no reason for the rest of us to weigh in uncritically.

Anyway, for all of the above reasons, and also because I don’t want to, I shall not be having children.  Good luck if you plan to, but don’t think you’re special.  Billions have done it before and more will after; some will do a better job than you, and many will fuck it up a whole lot more.  I hope that wilfull childlessness will gain something of the status of modern atheism – but without the Dawkins, if you please – it may always be a minority choice, but is a viable one where neither side gains any special moral currency from making what is simply a personal choice.

Postscript

One final point about the oddness of people who regard producing children as if they’re doing a favour to the rest of society.  The whole business about providing for the future of the human race is about the most spurious argument you can make.  Firstly, it doesn’t look like we’re in any danger of dying out from this.  Through destroying the environment, maybe, or even a massive nuclear exchange.  But there are plenty of people already having kids, and many millions of young people who could do with food, shelter, and dignity first.  Let’s look after the children we have before we start thinking about having more.

And this last brings me to my second and final point: it’s odd how those who go on most about looking to the future of the species here, and are most pro-‘family’ – which is to say conservatives – give the least consideration to others in the rest of their lives.  Anybody who has or wants to have children should really be a green (more-or-less, and I’m thinking of the ideology, rather than the party itself, as you can disagree on specific policies).  If you’re looking at the future in one fashion, you should really be looking at it in every area.  It makes no sense to want ‘the best’ for your offspring, while cheerfully screwing up their future.  And this isn’t really about people who deny anthropogenic climate change – that’s a scientific discussion that I’ll leave elsewhere – but the fact that even if you don’t think the science quite holds up, any ethical parent should probably at least be thinking about the, in no way outlandish, idea that we might have some effect on the world of our children, and adjusting their behaviour accordingly.

Stop Press: Fuck the Pope

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/11/pope-francis-the-choice-to-not-have-children-is-selfish

“Hey! He lied to us through song. I hate it when people do that. “

It’s amazing how easy it is to lie to those around us.  Lying is generally regarded as a major moral failing, and we would all like to think of ourselves as good people, so we convince ourselves of our virtue despite the fact that we constantly dissemble and misrepresent.  As more than a few people have observed, true honesty is not socially acceptable.

I’m not thinking of of major untruths: the slandering of a rival, the concealment of one’s criminal actions.  Nor the petty viciousness a child might direct towards a sibling, or the way a gossip may massage facts to inflate their own importance (Twitter’s own version, perhaps, being reposting without attribution).  On the flip side, I equally don’t mean white lies proper, where one acts to protect from genuine harm, or shame.

No, the vast majority of the lies we tell are simply social lubricant.  A colleague asks after our health and we unthinkingly reply that we are well.  Or we avoid making a perfectly justifiable complaint in a restaurant in order not to make a scene.  Conversely one might pretend relative indifference to a topic of great personal interest, as we know that interest is not shared by others present.  As a Brit, I have been trained to take part in the great ironical game where a phrase like ‘mustn’t grumble’, which clearly is grumbling in itself, is used to suggest that everything is fine, regardless of whether or not this is the case in fact.  And none of this is to suggest that this is a bad thing.  If whenever one spoke on a matter, one felt obliged to point out every single little dissatisfaction, or to trumpet one’s delight, we’d probably spend most (or more, at least) of our time wishing everybody would shut up for a bleedin’ minute.

Although there is clearly a vast gulf between the way we would like to see ourselves, and how we actually are, there is at least one matter those who sing the gospel of probity have got right: small lies soon become bigger ones, and the few easily multiply.  Or at least this happens if we are not vigilant.  If we unthinkingly lie about the insignificant things, at some point we’ll slip and do the same about things that really matter, that require the truth.  As the title might have suggested, I’m thinking of when we say that we’re ok, but really are not.

Now I don’t want to come across as if I’m painting myself as a paragon, but I’d like to think that I’m particularly good at this.  While I hardly led a childhood of deprivation, I lost my mother at a young age, and yet I never complained.  When I say this, I don’t mean I never objected to anything, or protested about my treatment, just that I never stopped and said anything like, ‘I’m eight years old, and I’ve just had one of the most important people in my life taken from me.  I shouldn’t have to deal with this, and I’d like some fucking help, right now.’  It seems rather funny writing like this about my past self, because I really don’t remember it like it happened to me.  I’m not sure how everyone else looks back on their childhood, but for me it’s more like recalling the elements of a story someone else once told than sorting through my own more recent memories.  Anyway, I digress.

It’s possible that my particular case is exacerbated by my Britishness, middle-class background, or my being male.  I’ve certainly seen mention of the latter in regard to the poor record of men presenting themselves to a doctor when sick.  But it seems rather odd to generalise this way as I don’t see our public spaces flooded with women bewailing their many misfortunes.  Well, I don’t – some people seem unable to distinguish between the legitimate airing of political grievance, and ‘moaning’.  There may be minor differences in the extent, but everybody does it, at least most of the time.  And this may not always be healthy.

I’ll wrap up with the idea that this was just a very long-winded way of saying ‘I’m not ok’.  But I’m kind of ok with that.

Postscript

Maybe I have made an error in assuming that everybody lies.  If you feel that I have misrepresented you, I apologise.  I’d say that I admire you but, in an uncharacteristic moment of truthfulness, I’ll admit that I don’t.  Honesty has its place, but it can also be brutal, hurtful, and even malicious.  I might like to be more honest, but totally?  I think not.  I’d rather get on with those around me.